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Astronomers Planning To Image Milky Way's Central Black Hole

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the the-reality-is-much-much-worse dept.

Space 68

99luftballon writes "Astronomers are planning the Event Horizon Telescope project in Arizona on Wednesday — and say in three or four years they should be able to image the ring of matter around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The black hole is 26,000 light years away, but should be large enough to check if Einstein got his equations right."

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Organized trolling campaign by GreatBunzinni (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743074)

GreatBunzinni [slashdot.org] has been posting anonymous accusations [slashdot.org] listing a whole bunch of Slashdot accounts as being part of a marketing campaign for Microsoft, without any evidence. GreatBunzinni has accidentally outed himself [slashdot.org] as this anonymous poster. Half the accounts he attacks don't even post pro-Microsoft rhetoric. The one thing they appear to have in common is that they have been critical of Google in the past. GreatBunzinni has been using multiple accounts to post these "shill" accusations, such as Galestar [slashdot.org] , NicknameOne [slashdot.org] , and flurp [slashdot.org] .

That's not the problem. The problem is that moderators gave him +5 Informative and are now modding down the accused, even for legitimate posts. Metamoderation is supposed to address this by filtering out the bad moderators, but clearly it's not working.

This "shill" crap that has been flying around lately has to stop. It's restricting a variety of viewpoints from participating on the site and creating an echo chamber.

Re:Organized trolling campaign by GreatBunzinni (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38744036)

He's probably right you spamming fuck.

Re:Organized trolling campaign by GreatBunzinni (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744282)

if 4chan has a wordfilter, why doesn't this place?

i suppose i could browse above -1, but i like feeding trolls too much.

Re:Organized trolling campaign by GreatBunzinni (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38744408)

Slashdot's comment system is a little, well, "special." For instance, did you know that modding someone up as Funny doesn't affect their karma, but modding the Funny comment down does? You can destroy people's karma without them ever getting a single -1 comment!

Re:Organized trolling campaign by GreatBunzinni (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745648)

This "shill" crap that has been flying around lately has to stop. It's restricting a variety of viewpoints from participating on the site and creating an echo chamber.

No it doesn't. You can post anything you want here (except Scientology secrets).

And if you expect moderation to serve as an "invisible hand" that optimizes post ratings, you must be new around here.

But you're welcome to tell us why you're so sensitive about this that you have to spam your complaint on every story. You wouldn't happen to be an astroturfer yourself, would you?

INbeforeSpam (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743082)

Event Horizon huh?
Scientists have a sick sick humor!

Re:INbeforeSpam (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743214)

I'm pretty sure that some /. contributor already has a picture of that "ring of matter around the supermassive black hole" and is eager to share it with us.

Re:INbeforeSpam (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743504)

I am Corn Holio!!!

Re:INbeforeSpam (5, Funny)

idbeholda (2405958) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743580)

I don't see why they're building such a telescope, because where we're going, we won't need eyes to see.

Re:INbeforeSpam (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744158)

Event Horizon huh?
Scientists have a sick sick humor!

Why is it a sick sense of humor to call a telescope looking at a blockhole Event Horizon? Black Holes are one of the only things that have event horizons I believe.

Re:INbeforeSpam (2)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744476)

I think it's a reference to the movie Event Horizon [imdb.com]

(Pretty creepy movie, BTW)

Re:INbeforeSpam (3, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745358)

telescope looking at a blockhole

Holy crap! It's the lesser known cubic blockhole ... much more sneaky and secretive than blackholes.

I spell goodly! :-P

Re:INbeforeSpam (1)

Guignol (159087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746894)

Everything, that is, every event has event horizons.
Near enough of a blackhole, the events horizons will be bent in such a way that all possible futures of any event will be closer to the blackhole center no matter how, it is therefore impossible to escape the blackhole past a certain limit which is 'the' event horizon of the blackhole.

Re:INbeforeSpam (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746410)

Wrong site. Can't inb4 on Slashdot. :)

Oh, Einstein. (4, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743224)

Will people ever stop checking your equations?

Re:Oh, Einstein. (2)

arnodf (1310501) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743264)

Let's hope not. Thanks to this we're discovering new great things again and again!

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743336)

I maded you a relativistic equation, but I eated it.

Re:Oh, Einstein. (2)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744732)

I maded you a relativistic equation, but I eated it.

Does that look anything like this [wordpress.com] ?

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38754952)

Definitely. Grabbity-stealing... *shakes head and heads off to the brake rume for cake, then realized he's on the wrong site for that*

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743614)

No because no one should ever stop checking any equations. All scientific formulae are an estimation to explain observations of reality. The relativity formula should never have been accepted as law. It should not be used to deny anything that doesn't fit the formula. It should have just been accepted as a "best guess" because better methods of observation and testing will one day replace that formula with something even more accurate. And after that there will be yet more accurate formulas, as long as scientists believe in exploring and understanding everything ad infinitum.

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743694)

They'll stop when they find a problem. That's how science works.

Re:Oh, Einstein. (3, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743866)

Untested hypotheses that turn out to be wrong often set research back months or years, wasting time testing them. Taking one man's word as law without testing it, if it were wrong, that could cause a huge amount of wasted time.

It would suck if we didn't get teleporters within our lifetimes just because Einstein was a little off and no one bothered to check it.

Re:Oh, Einstein. (2)

Nyder (754090) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746514)

... Taking one man's word as law without testing it, if it were wrong, that could cause a huge amount of wasted time..

Tell that to the dictators in the world...

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38744394)

Well, if it's any consolation, you got a chuckle out of me, Samantha.

Some of the other posters, however, need to lighten up a bit...

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745032)

It was a rather poor turnout, alas.

Re:Oh, Einstein. (1)

hutsell (1228828) | more than 2 years ago | (#38771728)

Will people ever stop checking your equations?

Apparently not; from Einstein himself explaining why this is so: "If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German, the Swiss will say I'm a Swiss Citizen and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will exclaim that I am Swiss, the Swiss will say I'm a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew."

Oh Noes! (2, Funny)

fazil (62946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743274)

Divide by ZERO!

Liberate tutemae ex inferis! (4, Funny)

bazald (886779) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743488)

Liberate tutemae ex inferis!!!

Einstein's equations (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38743560)

but should be large enough to check if Einstein got his equations right.

The ongoing thingy with CERN's maybe-FTL neutrinos may answer that before the three or four years envisioned for this.

Re:Einstein's equations (1)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744504)

The ongoing thingy with CERN's maybe-FTL neutrinos may answer that before the three or four years envisioned for this.

Apparently three or four years from now they'll figure out how to use FTL to make neutrinos travel backwards in time, so they sent us some so we'd know how important it was to continue the research.... now it all makes sense!

They won't see anything (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743596)

It's black. Duh.

Re:They won't see anything (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38744364)

Black holes don't really have a color. They just suck like that.

$10 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743600)

Sadly, We'll have to pay $10 to see this copyrighted picture,,,

The black hole (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743822)

We will one day fall in it in the far distant future.

Oh, /. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743864)

All these posts in a story about a "black hole" and not one goatse link?

Re:Oh, /. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38743888)

Be patient grasshopper.

Re:Oh, /. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38744030)

Oh god - I have an overwhelming compulsion to provide the link... DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK AT YOU MOTHER INLAW'S HOUSE [goatse.info]

Accretion disk, not event horizon (5, Informative)

MetricT (128876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744150)

They're not imaging the event horizon, they're trying to image the accretion disk around the central black hole, and hoping they can see the event horizon's "shadow" against it. I doubt that we're going to be directly imaging the event horizon for the central black hole anytime soon.

The Milky Way's central black hole is 4.l million solar masses. The Schwartzchild radius of a static black hole of that mass is roughly 12.3 million km, or 17.7 x the radius of our sun. That's roughly 1/3 the size of Mercury's orbit. You could put it in the center of our solar system, and not devour a single planet (though they would start orbiting a *lot* faster).

Hold out your fist at arm's length. If you put the Milky Way's central black hole where our sun was, it would be roughly that big.

Now, imagine trying to see something that size, which is perfectly dark, from 27,000 light years away and you'll understand how difficult it would be to directly image it.

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (3, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744292)

I doubt that we're going to be directly imaging the event horizon for the central black hole anytime soon. [...] Now, imagine trying to see something that size, which is perfectly dark, from 27,000 light years away and you'll understand how difficult it would be to directly image it.

Direct imaging of its event horizon is exactly what they're planning to do: http://arxiv.org/abs/0906.3899 [arxiv.org]

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (1)

sackbut (1922510) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744354)

Well at least "angular resolution comparable to the event horizon". Comparable to the diameter of the black hole I guess which is the event horizon. If this is one pixel then I don't know what you can get from that .

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745220)

Well at least "angular resolution comparable to the event horizon". Comparable to the diameter of the black hole I guess which is the event horizon. If this is one pixel then I don't know what you can get from that .

You might get a pretty good view of the large-scale structure of the presumed infalling matter.

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748032)

Comparable to the diameter of the black hole I guess which is the event horizon.

It's exactly the event horizon; you definitely can't see anything inside of that limit by any means from outside by its very definition.

It's not quite exactly imaging (5, Interesting)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744826)

The telescope that they use is actually several radio telescopes capturing the same signal at the same time, in an observing mode called VLBI for Very Long Baaseline Interferometry. The data captured are correlated off-site (or in real time if they can build a trans-oceanic Gbyte/sec data link) to get a wave-by-wave signal match, producing interference fringes that permit the construction of a very high resolution image. These days, they store the GByte/sec data on a bank of hard disk drives and FedEx them to the correlator in Virginia.

I happen to work on one of these telescopes, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope on Mt. Graham in Arizona. We have a hydrogen maser on site to produce a clock accurate enough to collect the data synchronously with other telescopes in other parts of the world.

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (1)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744672)

They're not imaging the event horizon, they're trying to image the accretion disk around the central black hole, and hoping they can see the event horizon's "shadow" against it. I doubt that we're going to be directly imaging the event horizon for the central black hole anytime soon.

The telescope they are using is named "The Event Horizon Telescope"
It is not being claimed anywhere that they plan to directly image the event horizon.

This might surprise you, but the Hubble telescope was not designed and launched into space with the goal of taking pictures of Edwin Hubble either :P

Now the James Webb Telescope on the other hand, that thing is run by a bunch of peeping toms for sure!

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38749188)

I may be having trouble with your sarcasm, but I would assume that when they name a telescope after something they are pointing it at, that's what they plan to see with it, not just some PR stunt. So I guess you want me to believe the Hubble Deep Field image isn't about seeing far, but about looking at Mars or something unrelated to deep field?

Re:Accretion disk, not event horizon (1)

flargleblarg (685368) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745314)

Interesting... So the center of the galaxy is 14.2 billion light-minutes away, or about 1.75 billion times away from us as our Sun is. Crazy.

Better hurry! (2)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744276)

They've got a picture of it up on Wikipedia, but not for much longer!

more of a test of relativistic particle physics (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744400)

It might be a bit of an oversimplification to call this a test of relativity.

Relativity consists of special relativity (SR) and general relativity (GR). GR includes gravity.

SR has been tested in many different ways to extremely high precision. Here [edu-observatory.org] is a summary of experimental tests of SR. Note that even if the faster-than-light neutrino result from CERN/Gran Sasso is correct, it doesn't necessarily conflict with SR. SR doesn't forbid FTL. It only forbids an object from being accelerated from a speed less than c to a speed greater than c.

Here [livingreviews.org] is an article on tests of general relativity. A nice popularization of this kind of thing is the book Was Einstein Right? by Clifford Will. Although GR has not been as thoroughly tested as SR, it has been tested in many different ways. There is not really a heck of a lot of doubt that it's right in many ways. Alternative theories exist, but they are extremely tightly constrained by observation.

We expect that Sagittarius A* is a black hole, and the definition of black hole basically means that it has an event horizon. If, contrary to everyone's expectations, it turns out not to have an event horizon, the most likely interpretation may not actually be that GR is wrong. It may actually mean that there is something wrong with relativistic particle physics. It's possible that the process of formation that we think leads to a black hole actually stops short of forming a black hole, and instead forms some other exotic object. There are various speculations about these things: gravastars, fuzzballs, quark stars, boson stars, q-balls... If we found out that Sgr A* was one of these hypothetical critters, it would be very exciting for the particle physicists, but it would not disprove GR.

Re:more of a test of relativistic particle physics (4, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745298)

We expect that Sagittarius A* is a black hole, and the definition of black hole basically means that it has an event horizon. If, contrary to everyone's expectations, it turns out not to have an event horizon, the most likely interpretation may not actually be that GR is wrong. It may actually mean that there is something wrong with relativistic particle physics. It's possible that the process of formation that we think leads to a black hole actually stops short of forming a black hole, and instead forms some other exotic object. There are various speculations about these things: gravastars, fuzzballs, quark stars, boson stars, q-balls...

IANAPhysicist, but AIUI:

A fuzzball would be indistinguishable from a black hole, since it's a hypothesis about what's what inside the event horizon.

A gravastar may also be indistinguishable (from outside), but I'm less sure about this.

The others, I think, would still form black holes if they had the amount of mass inside the amount of volume required by the observations.

Correct me if I'm wrong; I love learning about this stuff.

Re:more of a test of relativistic particle physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747278)

"A fuzzball would be indistinguishable from a black hole, since it's a hypothesis about what's what inside the event horizon."

Uhm no. They are saying black holes might have *no event horizon* (not be a black hole in the current definition) but instead be some other exotic object (such as a "fuzzball"). If there is no event horizon then there's no hypothesis about what's what inside the event horizon.

Re:more of a test of relativistic particle physics (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747854)

"A fuzzball would be indistinguishable from a black hole, since it's a hypothesis about what's what inside the event horizon."

Uhm no. They are saying black holes might have *no event horizon* (not be a black hole in the current definition) but instead be some other exotic object (such as a "fuzzball"). If there is no event horizon then there's no hypothesis about what's what inside the event horizon.

Yes, that's what they were *saying*. I was pointing out that their example of 'fuzzball' *is* a black hole, and *does* have an event horizion, and thus, like the other things, doesn't belong in their list of alternatives if no event horizon is found.

Re:more of a test of relativistic particle physics (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748288)

Yes, that's what they were *saying*. I was pointing out that their example of 'fuzzball' *is* a black hole, and *does* have an event horizion, and thus, like the other things, doesn't belong in their list of alternatives if no event horizon is found.

Yes, I think you're correct.

Re:more of a test of relativistic particle physics (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748758)

Note that even if the faster-than-light neutrino result from CERN/Gran Sasso is correct, it doesn't necessarily conflict with SR. SR doesn't forbid FTL. It only forbids an object from being accelerated from a speed less than c to a speed greater than c.

That's just not true. SR forbids anything, even information [wikipedia.org] , from travelling FTL because as a consequence of time dilation in non-FTL reference frames if you could travel or communicate FTL then you could create closed causal loops. Causality is one of the basic assumptions of SR along with relativity and constancy of the speed of light.

Objects with mass can't be accelerated to the speed of light for a different reason -- because it would require infinite energy. So accelerating past c is obviously not possible (and such an object would have energy that is a complex number, whatever that would mean).

But FTL is in fact forbidden by SR. The neutrino experiments have serious ramifications for SR, and the experimenters know it.

Oh no, Event Horizon! (1)

autophile (640621) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744500)

Libera te tutemet ex inferis!

What If... (4, Interesting)

mlauzon (818714) | more than 2 years ago | (#38744796)

It turns out there is no black hole at the centre of the Milky Way?

Re:What If... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38745324)

It turns out there is no black hole at the centre of the Milky Way?

Lots of astronomers' heads will get scratched, and you will hear a chorus of "That's funny." (Possible citing Asimov in a footnote.)

Re:What If... (3, Informative)

wye43 (769759) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746150)

Re:What If... (2)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748060)

[The center of the galaxy is] actually a massive rotating bar

Really? What do they serve at this massive rotating bar? What music do they play? Are there lights? Do they have any sports on TV?

Re:What If... (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38751978)

What do they serve at this massive rotating bar?

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, of course.

Re:What If... (1)

Maritz (1829006) | more than 2 years ago | (#38754122)

I go for the simpler alternative involving a gold brick and a slice of lemon. Easier to recover from.

They should look elsewhere (2)

lanceran (1575541) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746046)

Maybe they should check Uranus if they are looking for central black holes. I hear it might be supermassive.

competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747712)

"Astronomers Planning To Image Milky Way's Central Black Hole"

I will do it at 1/10 the cost. If anyone has any contacts at the organization, I am in a position to do this tonight, all I need is the resolution (x by y in pixels) and I can reply later tonight with a full image of the milky way's central black hole. Don't ask me how.

Re:competition (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38751212)

Don't ask me how.

That would make whatever work you provided astrology (a.k.a made-up bullshit), not astronomy (a science).

Back to your remedial classes in history and philosophy of science.

Re:competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38752186)

all right, you can ask me how. Following relativistic science, the image of an actual black hole (as opposed to stuff swirling around it) is totally absent of any electromagnetic waves at any frequency, and, therefore, completely black. As for my method, I will open a new document in paint, select "Attributes" from the "Image" menu, enter the width and height which I requested (gp post), click OK, click the fill bucket and click anywhere in the image to turn it black, and save the document in the required format from File, Save.

Since I've now revealed much of my competitive advantage, I am now lowering my price from 1/10 to 1/20th of the team's price. Please reply with an email address to take advantage of this offer.

Re:competition (1)

Maritz (1829006) | more than 2 years ago | (#38754172)

The idea is to image the accretion disk, which would typically surround the black hole. The fact that this isn't the exact same thing as imaging the black hole itself is splitting semantic hairs in my opinion. Yeah black holes are black. The stuff falling into them isn't, and you can still learn a lot from it.

Event Horizon.... (1)

Tracy Reed (3563) | more than 2 years ago | (#38756064)

That movie gave my gf (at the time) nightmares for a week...

I hope this telescope is more successful than the ship of the movie!

cool (1)

peawormsworth (1575267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38759604)

I dont pretend to have any idea if this could be done. But when I saw the animation of the nearby stars swooping around the centre of the milky way... it was so beautiful. I support all attempts to image this area further. I for one wish them all the best luck in this endeavour.and cannot wait to see the results. Best luck u star gazers.

U.S. astronomers say they have discovered the Milk (1)

Roopam jain (2550076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38764772)

Yet we have thousands of photos of our galaxy in shades of cream, blue, pink and purple. In addition, much of the light we see of the Milky Way from Earth is blocked by dense dust. Therefore, we can only see 1,000 to 2,000 light-years in any direction...........more http://www.dbune.com/news/tech/10045-us-astronomers-say-they-have-discovered-the-milky-ways-true-colors.html [dbune.com]
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